Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The art of misquoting

Misquoting is a high art form. "Mediocre artists steal, great artists borrow" (and improve), and variations of this bon mot, have been variously attributed to Picasso, Stravinsky, and the American literary critic Lionel Trilling. The point is that a good painting, a good tune, or a good line or story can be turned into very good ones. And so it is with movie quotes.

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like ... victory." Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) never quite says that in "Apocalypse Now" (1979). What he says is: "You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed for twelve hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smells like victory."

"Beam me up, Scotty!"
Captain Kirk never says that in the 79 episodes of the classic Star Trek TV series. He does say, "Scotty, beam me up!"

"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"
What Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) actually says in The Graduate is, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me... Aren't you?"

"Play it again, Sam."
What Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) tells Sam is, "You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can. Play it!" Earthlings don't need to be told what movie this is.

"If you build it, they will come."
Nope, what Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) says in Field of Dreams (1989, a mediocre movie, in my opinion) is, "If you build it, he will come."

This Spiegel gallery of famous misquotes gets some of the misquotes wrong.

Nobody in the English-speaking world thinks that Rhett Butler says, "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn," as Der Spiegel claims. We all know he says, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." That line cannot be improved upon.